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Jessica Alba on being more than the face of a company

Actress and The Honest Company Founder Jessica Alba speaks on stage at the Forbes Under 30 Summit. PHOTO COURTESY MELISSA OSTROW MELOPHOTO / FORBES
Actress and The Honest Company Founder Jessica Alba speaks on stage at the Forbes Under 30 Summit. PHOTO COURTESY MELISSA OSTROW MELOPHOTO/ FORBES

It took Jessica Alba, a mother, actress and the founder of The Honest Company, some time to be looked at as more than a “girl in a bikini in the movies,” she said. Alba found herself walking the bridge between stardom and business when she walked into a room of investors.

Six years after founding the company, Alba sits in the seat of a company recently valued at $1.7 billion, helping mothers and fathers and provide toxin-free products such as diapers, safe wipes and organic infant formula.

The 35-year-old urged a roomful of entrepreneurs in Faneuil Hall on Monday to embrace all the personal and professional challenges that come with starting a company, during her panel at the Forbes Under 30 Summit.

“I don’t allow it to matter as much,” Alba said on early pushbacks. “I’ve been able to own my power and take the position that I feel is rightfully mine.”

She described this shift of perspective, however, as “baby steps.”

The Honest Company sells nontoxic household and baby essentials, with the “mission to build healthier, safer families,” according to their website. During the talk, Alba mentioned that she wanted to make the products accessible and stylish to appeal to parents, the “most efficient workers” she’s ever met, she said.

While the founder gushed over the mention of a “certified organic tampon with a bio-based plastic applicator,” Alba explained her real passion for safe products began when she thought about her own past, and her daughter’s future.

“I had chronic asthma and allergies, I had multiple surgeries … complications,” Alba said. “So I spent a lot of my time in hospitals and hospital beds dreaming about really, anywhere else and anyone else.”

When Alba became pregnant with Honor, now 8, she experienced an outbreak of hives from detergent, she said. Alba explained that this set off anxiety and nervousness about her daughter coming into contact with toxins, and getting as sick as she once did.

By 2011, she was inspired to bring more transparency to household items.

At the summit, Alba was also asked to respond to the lawsuits her company recently faced. In February, a couple filed a lawsuit that some Honest products were mislabeled and had synthetic and toxic chemicals. Most recently, the Organic Consumers Association filed a lawsuit in California claiming that the company mislabeled baby formula as “organic.”

While at first Alba hinted at overreaching media and headlines, she later added that the allegations created a new opportunity for the company.

“It keeps us more committed to our mission. It keeps us more focused,” Alba said. “I think for any entrepreneur out there, when you’re faced with challenges, you can’t let them define you.”

Toward the end, she spoke to the stigma around successful women.

“When I was five, I was a self-proclaimed feminist,” she said, thanking her mom and grandmother for the way she was raised.

She urged the room to be supportive of women in the workplace, even with simple acts like a compliment during a meeting.

Some in the crowd on Monday said they were surprised with Alba’s story.

Nineteen-year-old Ocean Pleasant, a 30 Under 30 honoree at the summit for her work as CEO of Real, a platform for social activism, explained she was surprised at Alba’s words.

“She went to lobby against toxic chemicals,” Pleasant said. “She literally went and tried to reform a Toxic Substances Control Act from 1976. I didn’t know she did due diligence, so that was really great to hear.”

Megan Grassell, the founder and CEO of Yellowberry, a company that focuses on making comfortable and seamless bras to ease a girl’s transition into wearing a bra, said she attended the talk with little knowledge of Alba’s company. Grassell, also an honoree, said she was interested to hear more about Alba’s background in business and commitment to the cause.

“She’s so much more than a face of the brand,” Grassel said. “And as millennials, I guess we’re all obsessed with branding, but after this talk I got to hear about how I can really vote with my dollar.”

To the room of entrepreneurs, established and hopefuls, Alba left them with one last piece of advice.

“You have to walk in with your end goal in mind, and make sure you are relentless until you walk out of that room,” Alba said. “[Make sure] whoever you’re talking to … gets it.”

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